The House Committee on County Affairs Chaired by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) met in Houston on Oct. 17 to hear testimony on several issues important to counties including disasters, mental health and county authority. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy were a couple of county representatives on hand to deliver the county story.
A productive discussion between committee members and the two county judges illustrated the different challenges faced by all counties, reinforcing the fact that one size does not fit all.
“As an urban county judge I want to go on record as saying these smaller counties desperately need the help of the state when it comes to the local matching funds,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “It’s not logical for them to use the CDBG grant funds as match because it takes other dollars off the table for them to access.”
“We passed a $2.5 billion bond measure, I don’t think Polk County could manage that,” said Emmett, further illustrating the difference between the counties. At that point, Chairman Coleman congratulated the judge for passing the measure by an overwhelming 86 percent.
Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy testified that she has commissioners who have still not been paid back after a decade for expenditures made during Hurricane Ike, which shows how important it is to have a good general fund that can withstand that kind of hit. Furthermore, when disasters occur and 1.8 million residents evacuate Harris County and end up in Polk, the resources are not available to accommodate that many people.
Chairman Coleman asked for a county wish list when it comes to disaster planning, response and recovery. TAC’s Legislative Services Division is reaching out to county judges and emergency management coordinators for feedback.
Since Harvey made landfall, county officials have been meeting to put together an Emergency Preparedness Checklist. It is a working document of steps the state of Texas can take to ensure local governments are able to weather future disasters. Contact Rick Thompson for more information. Contact Rick Thompson for more information.
In the hours of testimony, the House Committee on County Affairs explored the following charges:
Interim Charge #1: Examine how emergency response activities are organized, funded, and coordinated. Review the impact of natural disasters on county finances. Identify any deficiencies in authority for the most populous counties related to infrastructure planning, emergency response, and recovery. Explore ways to improve efficiencies and manage costs while protecting public safety. Additionally, study the relationship between the state, counties, non-governmental organizations, and churches in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, and determine if preparedness plans are adequate.
Interim Charge #2: Evaluate whether counties have the necessary ordinance-making and enforcement authority to deal with flood risk in unincorporated rural and suburban areas of Texas. Additionally, examine whether counties have adequate resources and authority to ensure that new development in unincorporated areas is not susceptible to flooding.
Interim Charge #3: Study how counties identify defendants' and inmates' behavioral health needs and deferral opportunities to appropriate rehabilitative and transition services. Consider models for ensuring defendants and inmates with mental illness receive appropriate services upon release from the criminal justice system.
Interim Charge #5: Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee's jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 85th Legislature. Under the Committee's oversight, the Committee will be discussing indigent defense.